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CHILE, A COUNTRY OF HIDDEN GEMS
 
(2019 - Spring Issue)

Writer: DENISE J. DEVEAU



There’s so much one can say about travelling to Chile. Whether you’re an urban junkie, art lover, outdoor enthusiast, foodie or wine aficionado, you are bound to find something THAT STRIKES your fancy.

Chile is a wonderful geographical curiosity. A country whose width can be traversed in an hour or two at just about any point, it extends 4,270 kilometres from stem to stern, creating a vast diversity of landscapes and climate. There’s the desert region of the north, the vibrant urban landscape of Santiago and Valparaiso, the expansive vineyards and rustic villages of the central region, and finally, the far reaches of Patagonia to the south.

Chile has long since shaken off the dark days of the Pinochet regime. Now a politically stable and progressive country, people take pride in their centuries of history and their prospects for the future.

What is striking when you travel through parts of Chile is the enthusiasm of the people you meet, whether they are young professionals carving out a new future or friendly villagers steeped in tradition. Santiago for example has become a mecca for up-and-coming millennials who have left smaller towns to pursue their education and careers.

There is also a growing number of well-heeled baby boomers who have foregone their urban lifestyle to establish their own eco-friendly businesses in more remote areas of the country. Then you have families who have fished or farmed for generations and cling to their traditions and folklore.

CULTURALLY RICH ROOTS

This trip took us to the country’s cultural roots in Chiloé (which means “seagull place”), about 1,200 kilometres south of Santiago, where we experienced an eclectic mix of Spanish and indigenous culture that permeates everything from restaurants and resorts to rural villages and waterfront communities. Wherever you choose to go in the region, you will find remnants of ancient folklore or centuries-old cooking techniques dating back to settlers from the Pacific Island regions.

Chiloé is an often overlooked but culturally rich region that is a true throwback to earlier times. The residents are descendants of a long line of navigators and seafaring adventurers. Although it is a mainly Catholic district, you often run into signs of relics that precede Christianity and represent mythical creatures and gods from ancient folklore in the form of crudely carved figurines on buildings or hidden in the long grass along the riverbanks.

UNIQUE SITES AND EXPERIENCES

This 40-island archipelago in central Chile is also home to a number of unique historical sites. There are the Churches of Chiloé, a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, which features 16 churches built in the Chilota architecture style during the 18th and 19th centuries. These colourfully painted churches are constructed from native timber with wood shingles and have a particular interior domed design representing an overturned boat, which pays homage to their early history.

Another architectural standout on Chiloé Island is the city of Castro, where the waterfront is crammed with a distinctive style of houses on stilts that have become a major stopping point for architecture enthusiasts.

At some point on the trip, every traveller should experience a curanto—a centuries-old traditional feast of meat, potatoes, dumplings, vegetables and shellfish cooked in a hole in the ground. While the food is being prepared, local musicians play curanto songs, and guests can sip on an endless supply of Chile’s most popular cocktail, pisco sours. When all is ready, it’s time to sit down at a communal table and dig into the platters of steaming hot delicacies.

If you have time, it’s well worth your while to visit Conejos Island, where you will see plenty of dolphins, sea lions and penguins. The highlight of our tour was an on-board meal of freshly caught shellfish served up in a massive bowl for all to share.

There are also some hidden gems that for some may seem eccentric but speak to the traditions of the region. In Chonchi, for example, you will find the Museo del Acordeon in a quaint and unassuming building where the owner, Don Sergio Colivoro, lovingly repairs and plays his vast collection of accordions. At any time, you may walk in to see people on folding chairs playing traditional dancing tunes for the locals.

Chiloé is an often overlooked but culturally rich region that is a true throwback to earlier times. The residents are descendants of a long line of navigators and seafaring adventurers. Although it is a mainly Catholic district, you often run into signs of relics that precede Christianity and represent mythical creatures and gods from ancient folklore in the form of crudely carved figurines on buildings or hidden in the long grass along the riverbanks.

SPECIAL LODGINGS

A true gem of a retreat in the region is the Tierra Chiloé located a few kilometres down a forest trail. This ultra-luxe, architecturally modern resort was designed to mimic the island’s landscape and traditional stilted homes. Expansive windows overlook the seafront where guests can do some early morning birdwatching or simply soak up the scenery. Despite its secluded location, there is plenty to do, including a boat tour to search for penguins and otters or a horse ride through the extended beachfronts followed by a traditional asado de cordero al palo—a roast lamb meal barbecued over an open fire.

Another regional one-of-a-kind must-see is the Espejo de Luna in Queilén, a restaurant and lodge where the main building resembles a leaning wooden boat cast up on a shore. According to the owners, every structure on this beautiful nature spot has been built with materials of the land. The property features a spectacular eco-friendly hiking trail with cabins and camping sites hidden within the untamed forest.

Of course, there is much more to this country than local villages and unique architectural sites. There’s the bustling energy of cities like Santiago and Valparaiso, world-renowned vineyards, vibrant local markets, amazing roadside food stands, challenging mountain-biking and hiking trails, fascinating museums and galleries, and the allure of scenic beaches.

While it would be impossible to cover all that Chile has to offer, the best advice I can provide is to plan ahead and put together an itinerary to capture the experiences that you will love. And if you can’t do it all in one trip, a return visit wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Travel Planner

Air Canada operates direct flights daily from Toronto to Santiago from which there are daily flights to Castro in Chiloé. For more information on all there is to see and do in Chile, visit chile.travel.

 
 
 
 
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